Not the sequel: Very late July (okay, very early August…) mail-out of of mental health, health and social care news,views and opinions. Welfare special.

Okay, technically this mail-out is part two, a follow-on to part one (readable here). However part one featured an extended and at times strained metaphor which tried my patience, so goodness knows what it did to you,the poor reader. Thus, from a sense of ennui at stretched similes, and a desire to afford the readership some relief, the rest of this mail-out continuation will follow a more conventional manner, thereby allowing the content items to speak for themselves.

And this mail-out is a benefits, welfare and work special (usual other news and info will follow later this week). Why? Because, put plainly, the single biggest issue, largest cause of concern among mental health service users and carers at the moment isn’t, say, medication, or crisis services, or talking treatments etc etc, but the many and varied changes to the benefits system, which are having a profound (and negative) impact at grass-roots level.

The scandal (and that’s not too dramatic a term) of the inadequacy of the multinational firm Atos and its woeful assessment procedures (the WCA) for eligibility for ESA (the replacement for Incapacity Benefit) have been laid bare many a time in previous mail-outs. Now our parliamentarians and the press have begun to catch up. This past week saw a damning report from the Select Committee on Work and Pensions:scathing in its findings,it said among other things that

"It is widely accepted that the Work Capability Assessment [WCA], as introduced in 2008, was flawed. This has been borne out by the high number of appeals and the high success rate of appellants. It was also reflected in the amount of evidence from individuals which expressed grievances with the way they were treated during the process and the accuracy of the outcome."

The Select Committee also condemned the repeated media portrayal of claimants as ‘​workshy’​ and ‘​scrounge​rs’​. The report openly criticised the government for failure to “​take greater care in the language it uses when it engages with the media and in particular when it releases and comments on official statistics on the IB reassessm​ent.”​ Some of what was said in evidence in the proceedings of the Select Committee is astounding, and worth reading.

One of the big fears, and it was a common theme through all the evidence we got, was the mechanistic nature, the computer-based nature. I think a lot of your clients feel they are in the Little Britain sketch, where it says, "The computer says no." The computer says no and they cannot get past it. That was a very common thing

An excellent summation of the iniquities and inequalities of the system as it is can be read here. A decent explanation of why claimant figures are what they are, and the (social and medical reasons) can be read here, which disproves the notion of lead-swinging scroungers.Just read some of the commenst below the piece too, to see something of the levels of ignorant hatred and vicious bile spouted by some against the disabled.

Lo and behold, but the very same day, a sulphurous press release emanated from the DWP, which directly resulted is such venomous and wholly untrue headlines as this one. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the Government is wilfully propagating the lie that only one in 14 people claiming sickness benefits deserve to do so. 40% of claimants who appeal win. Those who have legal advice and/or representation are even more successful. Even the man who designed the WCA says it’s not fit for purpose. But no, journalists in national newspapers are prepared to peddle unthinkingly the old canard; if you’re too sick to work you must be lazy, because it fits their malicious and unfounded prejudice. Many charities have warned that the narrative being spun around welfare policy casts the disabled as cheats (with a consequent rise in hate crime), and 50 of them at the end of the week just gone condemned the Govt for its misleading use and presentation of statistics.

Indeed the chair of the Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg was so incensed by this dark act of propaganda (timed on the same day as the committee’s report, remember) that she wrote an open parliamentary letter to Chris Grayling, the minister ultimately responsible:“​By what I assume was a coincidence, the Department chose to release statistics on new Employment and Support Allowance claims yesterday. The coverage of the statistics in some newspapers, notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, was a particularly egregious example of the way they can be misused.”​ Begg says that she trusts that Grayling will be “​contacting newspaper editors again to urge them to ensure that the reports they carry about ESA claims are factually correct and that they avoid pejorative terms such as "​shirkers"​ and "​scrounge​rs"​ which are irresponsible and inaccurate.”​. Two good exposes of just how the facts and statistics were manipulated are here and here

Obviously she’s bound by the archaic and tweely polite rules of the the House of Commons, but that’s strong criticism in that world.
In case you have the stomach for further proof of the twisted way in which things are being turned against the disabled, let’s consider how decent and proper it was for the cabinet minister Ian Duncan Smith, writing in the Sun to accede to his comments being pitched as, in essence sending the heavy mob round to claimants. And given the Conservative party’s proven closeness to News International, there is no doubt that the juxtaposition was deliberate.Personally, I object to a Gvt. minister threatening state sponsored violence through the agency of ‘burly ex cops and soldiers’ Not that Labour come out smelling of roses, since it was on their watch that such rhetoric started and of course, it was under James "photoshopping fake" Purnell that the WCA (as so heavily damned) was drawn up and implemented. Indeed the demonisation of the disabled can be seen as a neo-liberal theme, an ideology shared by the major parties. A history of this school of thought (and its terribly worrying premises) can be read here, and is very well worth clocking.This government is ramping up the fear and loathing… the last government wasn’t above craftily using the press for its dirty work, and neither even seem to have much of a sense of right or wrong, when scapegoating benefits claimants is concerned… it is actually a civil right to claim a benefit, not a criminal act.The government has deliberately chosen to tackle benefit fraud by creating widespread fear as a policy – fraud deterrence is a cover, as the DWP itself only estimates it to be running at 0.5% – the object is to deter claims. it ought to be repugnant to any citizen to see civil rights so debased.

So, here’s a little question for IDS and Mr Grayling:

If you believe fraud is a problem then you must address the 0.5% prevalence rate for it. If you think it’s wrong then your problem is with how the DWP arrives at this figure. If you accept this figure and you still think stricter anti-fraud measures are needed then you need to explain what you think a tolerable level of fraud is. Do not confuse this term with ‘acceptable’; we can all agree that no fraud is acceptable. But there is a limit which is tolerable; the point at which the cost to genuine claimants in probing them outweighs the insignificant gains in fraud reduction and the financial cost in savings is outweighed by by the enormous cost of enforcing measures. If you believe this should be ramped up indefinitely, that only 0% fraud is tolerable; then you either aren’t taking the subject seriously or you are ideologically against the principle of disability-related benefits in the first place and have no contribution to make to a debate that does accept the principle of it and wishes to determine the form it should take.

As a parting note, before allowing the blood to stop boiling, don’t forget that mental health service users and carers have set up an action group (the Welfare Reform Action Group), flyer attached (previously circulated) for Tuesday, 2nd of August’s meeting, with another pencilled in for the 22nd of August, venue to be confirmed.

Oh, and as promised normal mail-out service will resume later this week.

Alisdair Cameron
LAUNCHPAD Team Leader,
NTWSU&C n/wk co-chair (with Mish Loraine)
(for network business: ntwsuc)

Offices 210 and 211,
Holy Jesus Hospital,
City Road,
Newcastle upon Tyne,

Tel 0191 2330382 (personal mobile 07736074213)
E-mail launchpadncl

or alisdairscameron

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